The NFL has become the source of a lot of debate recently with certain athletes deciding to take a knee during the National Anthem. It has sparked a controversy that has grown into a national debate that even the President of the United States has voiced his opinion on the matter. But whether you agree with the protests or disagree with them, the one thing we can all agree on is the worst 15 NFL draft busts of all time.
The phrase draft bust refers to a player that fell well short of expectations after being highly selected during the first round of the draft. Normally, a draft bust is someone that was drafted in the first round, with some rare exceptions of players taken in the second and third rounds many years ago. If a team invests a significant amount of money to sign a supposedly talented college player, they plan on using him and getting as much value from him as possible. They don't expect to take him first overall and cut him during his rookie season. That is just never in the future plans of NFL draft picks.
So we decided to go out and find the 15 worst draft picks in NFL history and where they ended up when the dream of playing in the NFL came to a close.
15 Rick Mirer: Seattle Seahawks (1993, 2nd Overall)
Career Stats: 80 Games (68 Starts), 11,969 Passing Yards, 50 TD, 76 INT (1,130 Rushing Yards, 9 TD)
After a successful career at Notre Dame, in which he got to play on live national television every single week thanks to Notre Dame's exclusive partnership deal with NBC, Rick Mirer ended up the second overall selection of the 1993 NFL draft. His professional career started off on the wrong foot when he refused to participate in the combine. He even came out and said it was degrading.
The honeymoon did not last very long and he was traded to Chicago after his fourth year in the league. He was not horrible at first, throwing for 4,984 yards and 23 TD in his first two seasons while also helping the Seahawks win 11 games. But during his third season, things began to quickly fall apart for him. Rick has used that failure as a launching point to a career in the winery business where he now co-owns a winery in Napa County, California named Mirror Wine Company.
14 Heath Shuler: Washington Redskins (1994, 3rd Overall)
Career Stats: 29 Games (22 Starts), 3,691 Passing Yards, 15 TD, 33 INT (198 Rushing Yards, 1 TD)
Before any of the University of Tennessee fans ever heard about Peyton Manning, they were gifted with a blue chip QB from a North Carolina high school named Heath Shuler. For 2 years, Heath Shuler absolutely destroyed the SEC and even wound up breaking just about every single passing record in Tennessee history. That was, of course, before Peyton Manning came along a few years after him and broke all of them himself.
Heath Shuler was eventually drafted by the Washington Redskins with the 3rd overall selection resulting in a hefty 7-year, $19.25 million contract. However, he got started on a bad foot having held out of training camp while his agent negotiated the deal with Redskins management. After his NFL career ended, he got into politics and became North Carolina's 11th district U.S. House of Representatives official from 2007 until 2012. He is now a lobbyist for Duke Energy in Washington, D.C.
13 Vernon Gholston: New York Jets (2008, 6th Overall)
Career Stats: 45 Games (5 Starts), 34 Tackles
Vernon Gholston should have retired from football following his collegiate career. He would have left the game as one of the most remarkable talents in Ohio State history. But he was also a physical specimen that was making teams drool over heading into the 2008 draft. He is 6'4", and 258 pounds, with a 4.45 40-yard dash time and the NFL is not use to seeing that much speed with that much size and power.
However, once he put on the helmet and pads everything changed and he remains one of only two DE who were also first round picks in NFL history to never record a sack in their career. He eventually got cut after three seasons in the NFL. Following his failure in the NFL, Vernon decided to pursue other passions and recently opened up a mental health and substance abuse centre in New Jersey called Anew Wellness.
12 Andre Ware: Detroit Lions (1990, 7th Overall)
Career Stats: 14 Games (6 Starts), 1,112 Passing Yards, 5 TD, 8 INT (217 Rushing Yards)
Prior to 1997, the Detroit Lions were relatively good at drafting and had very few busts. But then 2002 came around and Joey Harrington joined the Lions starting a chain reaction that caused the Lions to spend the next six seasons drafting bust after bust. But the original draft bust of the Detroit Lions will always be, Andre Ware.
In his Junior year at the University of Houston, Andre Ware put up video game-like numbers by throwing for 4,699 yards and 46 TD in just 11 games. He went on to easily win the Heisman Trophy. That was when the Detroit Lions thought it would be best to go after him and dub him the saviour of the franchise. Today, he is working as a college football analyst for ESPN and also appears on the radio broadcast team for the Houston Texans.
11 Steve Emtman: Indianapolis Colts (1992, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 50 Games (19 Starts), 8 Sacks, 1 INT
At the University of Washington, Steve Emtman was a monster that helped lead the Huskies defense to the 1991 National Championship. He added 62 tackles that season with 20.5 of them going for losses. He went on to win multiple awards including the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Bill Willis Award, and UPI Lineman of the Year. In 2006, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
He struggled with injuries on the astroturf field the Colts used. After defying all the odds, he returned from the injuries but after one quarter of the 1994 season he ruptured a disc in his neck but did not tell anyone. The nerve damage was so severe he could not feel his hands. He actually played three more weeks before getting help. Since his retirment from the NFL in 1997, Steve Emtman is now a real estate developer in Spokane Valley, Washington where he has found more success than anything he had during his football career.
10 Ki-Jana Carter: Cincinnati Bengals (1995, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 59 Games (14 Starts), 319 Carries, 1,144 Rushing Yards, 20 TD (66 Receptions, 469 Receiving Yards, 1 TD)
When Adrian Peterson entered the NFL, he was widely considered the future of the Minnesota Vikings. The analysts ended up being right as AP ended up turning the Vikings into the best rushing offense in the NFL for many years. In 1995, Ki-Jana Carter was the same type of stud running back that was entering the NFL. Everyone thought he was a no-doubter and the Cincinnati Bengals agreed, taking him first overall, which was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He signed a $19.2 million deal but ended up tearing his ACL during preseason of his rookie year. That injury destroyed his confidence as well as affected his speed and overall movement on the football field. He would end up playing seven seasons and rushing for a total of 1,144 yards making him a huge bust. Ki-Jana Carter has become quite the businessman since leaving the NFL and he founded Byoglobe as their current CEO.
9 David Carr: Houston Texans (2002, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 94 Games (79 Starts), 14,452 Passing Yards, 65 TD, 71 INT (1,328 Rushing Yards, 9 TD)
At Fresno State, David Carr spent three seasons working his way onto the field. During his Junior year, he finally became their starter and threw for 2,338 yards with 18 TD and 11 INT. But it was his Senior season that propelled him into the national spotlight. That year, he threw for 4,839 yards with 46 TD and only 9 INT.
The Houston Texans were the league's newest expansion franchise and that means they were picking first in the draft so they went after a QB that would be their franchise's future. All it did however was put David Carr in a tough position where he was going to have to carry everything on his back. He was never meant to be a starter in this league. If you're interested in seeing him today, he is now working for the NFL Network as an analyst for various programs.
8 Akili Smith: Cincinnati Bengals (1999, 3rd Overall)
Career Stats: 22 Games (17 Starts), 2,212 Passing Yards, 5 TD, 13 INT (371 Rushing Yards, 1 TD)
The 1999 NFL Draft was monumental for multiple reasons but mainly because of the five QB's selected in the first round. It was the most QB's selected in the first round since the 1983 draft and remains the second most ever selected in the first round in one year..
Akili Smith was overrated to say the least, and this was apparent during his second season when he really got a starting chance. His playing career just was not deep enough to see all of the problems he had in the pocket. He was not as accurate as they thought and it caused him to leave the NFL in 2002, four years after being drafted 3rd overall. Since his career ended, he has bounced around the country coaching football and is now running his own passing and receiving clinic called Akili Smith Training.
7 Lawrence Phillips: St. Louis Rams (1996, 6th Overall)
Career Stats: 35 Games (20 Starts), 424 Carries, 1,453 Rushing Yards, 14 TD (34 Receptions, 219 Receiving Yards, 1 TD)
Some draft busts become a failure because of things beyond their control. Lawrence Phillips is an example of a super talented athlete that became a bust because of all of the trouble he got into off the field. He had gotten into many legal issues, including assault charges, before he finally got drafted by the St.Louis Rams at 6th overall and it only took him two years before he got himself into even more trouble. Apparently he had a serious drinking problem and anger management issues. This caused him to slowly spiral out of control eventually going to prison for a 31 year sentence. He ended up killing his cellmate in 2015 leading him to get convicted for 82-to-life. On January 12th, 2016, Lawrence Phillips was found dead in his cell after taking his own life.
6 Charles Rogers: Detroit Tigers (2003, 2nd Overall)
Career Stats: 15 Games (9 Starts), 36 Receptions, 440 Receiving Yards, 4 TD
NFL teams always look for flaws and issues a player has that the public might not see at first so that the organization isn't stuck with an overpaid dud. Charles Rogers was given the same treatment and teams were scared off by his past off the field issues like when his high school girlfriend stabbed him with a cooking fork in 1999 or when he tested positive for banned substances two different times in college.
Yet, even with all of these problems hanging over his head, Detroit Lions GM, Matt Millen, considered it a "non-factor" and still drafted him second overall. Three years later, he was out of the league after playing in just 15 games in 3 seasons due to a serious collarbone injury which plagued him for his whole career. As of April of 2017, the Lansing State Journal did a story about him, which revealed that he is living in Florida and doing his own thing right now.
5 Brian Bosworth: Seattle Seahawks (1987 Supplemental Draft, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 24 Games (24 Starts), 4 Sacks, 3 Fumble Recoveries
Brian Bosworth is the poster boy for psychotic defensive football players. The mullet wearing bruiser was one of the toughest players in college while attending Oklahoma between 1984 and 1986. "The Boz" was such an egotistical maniac that he considered himself too good to be drafted by a bad team and opted out of the regular draft. He even went as far as to write letters to all the teams he did not want to play for, threatening to not sign with them either. But, when he was drafted by one of those teams he threatened, the Seattle Seahawks, he quickly changed his tune and signed the largest rookie contract ever at the time. Since Brian Bosworth was already such an amazing personality on the field, he decided to take his talents to Hollywood after his career ended and become an actor, which is what he continues to do today.
4 Courtney Brown: Cleveland Browns (2000, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 61 Games (60 Starts), 155 Tackles, 19 Sacks, 8 Fumble Recoveries, 1 TD
Since no one in the world can actually predict the future, there is not a scout in the NFL that can use a special tool to figure out if a player is worth the risk of drafting him first overall in the draft. So even when a player passes all of the tests, no one can predict how healthy the player will remain throughout his entire career.
In the case of Penn State's stud DE and the Cleveland Browns first overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, Courtney Brown ran into trouble when the injury bug started looking for him. As impressive of a specimen as Brown was, he could not do much to stop getting injured and he battled them throughout the rest of his career before it forced him to retire in 2005. He has since turned to helping others and now does missionary work in the Dominican Republic.
3 Tony Mandarich: Green Bay Packers (1989, 2nd Overall)
Tony Mandarich is a victim of the hype train and it eventually derailed his NFL career. Right out of college, he was being dubbed the greatest offensive line prospect ever for many reasons. Offensive lineman that are 6'6" tall and 330 pounds of solid muscle are not supposed to run the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds or have a vertical leap of 30". But he did and Sports Illustrated did a piece on him, calling him "The Incredible Bulk" which ended up adding to the ever raising bar.
Like many other rookie busts on this list, Tony was also a holdout, not signing until one week before the season began. He got cut by Green Bay in 1992 and ended up going to rehab for substance abuse. He has since moved on to another passion of his, photography. He has his own studio now and has even grown it into Mandarich Media Group.
2 Ryan Leaf: San Diego Chargers (1998, 2nd Overall)
Career Stats: 25 Games (21 Starts), 3,666 Passing Yards, 14 TD, 36 INT (127 Rushing Yds)
When a franchise trades two first round and one second round draft pick, along with Eric Metcalf, just to move up one spot in the draft, they are basically calling you the saviour for this team. Ryan Leaf was talented, no doubt, but he was in need of some leadership and training. Instead, they gave him a four-year deal worth $31.25 million, which made him the highest paid rookie in NFL history back then.
Besides his poor behaviour during interviews, on the sidelines, and in the locker room, Ryan Leaf battled an alcohol problem that was also a factor in his failures in the NFL. In the words of former teammate Rodney Harrison, "He took the money and ran." He has done a complete 180 and is now working as a Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community. He also started a foundation called the Focus Intensity Foundation.
1 JaMarcus Russell: Oakland Raiders (2007, 1st Overall)
Career Stats: 31 Games (25 Starts), 4,083 Passing Yards, 18 TD, 23 INT (175 Rushing Yards, 1 TD)
JaMarcus Russell left LSU after his junior year and was quickly considered the top prospect of the 2007 NFL draft class. Sadly though, he held out of training camp and the first week of the season before the Oakland Raiders eventually signed him to a 6-year, $68 million contract, with $31.5 million guaranteed on September 12th.
One factor that contributed to him being a bust was his effort, which was almost non-existent to the coaches. In fact, Rich Eisen told a story about how the Oakland coaching staff would give Russell game plan DVDs with new plays on them to study and learn before the next practice. He always claimed to watch the DVDs, but they were blank! The effort was never there and he had $31.5 million to play around with, regardless of what happened to his NFL career. He is also one of the main reasons for the new rookie contract rules the NFL has instituted.